Leo VI and the Transformation of Byzantine Christian Identity: Writings of an Unexpected Emperor

Meredith L.D. Riedel
Cambridge University Press
Published Year: 
Image of Emperor Leo VI praying to Christ

Meredith L.D. Riedel, D.Phil., assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, has written a new book examining the political strategies employed by Byzantine Emperor Leo VI in his writings and the role of religion as a carrier of communal identity in Byzantium, history's longest-lived Christian empire.

The book, Leo VI and the Transformation of Byzantine Christian Identity: Writings of an Unexpected Emperor, was published by Cambridge University Press in August. Riedel argues that the impact of Leo VI’s religious faith transformed Byzantine cultural identity and influenced his successors, establishing the Macedonian dynasty as a Byzantine “golden age.”

A historian of early medieval Byzantine political thought and comparative religion, Riedel also highlights the differences between Christianity and Islam, deployment of Christian identity by the Byzantine emperor, and the role of religion during Byzantium’s heyday.   

In the book, Riedel analyzes the literary contributions of Leo VI (886–912), who was not a general or even a soldier like his predecessors but a scholar whose religious education distinguished him as an unusual ruler. She focuses on his deployment of ideological principles and religious obligations to distinguish the characteristics of the Christian world or oikoumene from the Islamic caliphate, primarily in his military tactics and strategy manual known as the Taktika.

Riedel also provides an in-depth examination of the emperor’s 113 legislative Novels, with particular attention to their theological introduction or prolegomena, showing how his religious sensibilities reshaped the legal code to harmonize with Byzantine canon law. The final chapters discuss how Leo VI’s views on preaching, his understanding of “chosen people” theology, and his exercise of statecraft reflected a transformed Christian cultural identity.